38 Natural Colourants for Organic Skincare

2017-11 Natural colourants

Skincare products using natural colourants are taking the market by storm. In contrast to mainstream products, artisan manufacturers of organic cosmetics are proud of their colourful balms and lotions. The colour in their products does not come from synthetic colourants, trying to imitate the green of apple or the pink of cherry blossom. Instead, their colouring comes from native oils and plant extracts full of natural colourants, which are usually shamelessly removed by mainstream formulators and chemists.

Although the mainstream industry views a colourant as an ingredient which is added in tiny quantities to a formulation to impart colour, we’ve broadened the definition of natural colourants in our article to include any ingredient that is added in any quantity and imparts a colour. In other words, you might add 50% of a colourful oil to your formulation and still view the oil as a natural colourant.

The natural and inherent colour of a product is proof of its authenticity. The green of avocado oil, the orange of buriti oil or the purple of elderberry extract are all signs that your ingredients are loaded with precious skincare ingredients such as beta-carotene or polyphenols.

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We encourage you to embrace the natural colourants found in cosmetic ingredients. In this article we’ve summarised 38 natural colourants for your organic skincare formulations:

38 Natural Colourants for Organic Skincare

1. Açaí

  • INCI: Euterpe oleracea extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic (extract), lipophilic (oil)
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Cyanidin-3-rutinoside and Cyanidin-3-glucoside
  • Colour: Purple (extract), green (oil)

Açaí berries are a dark purple in colour. Their main chemical compounds are anthocyanins including cyanidin-3-rutinoside and cyanidin-3-glucoside, which are predominant in açaí fruits. These fruits also contain several flavone and flavonol glycosides, flavanol derivatives, and phenolic acids. The fruit also yields an oil which is deep green in colour and is pressed from the fruits (pulp) of the Açaí palm from Brazil.

2. Alkanet

  • INCI: Alkanna Tinctoria Root Extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophobic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Alkannin
  • Colour: Red / purple

Alkanet is a herb in the borage family, whose roots yield a dark red dye.  Although the plant’s flowers are blue, it has a dark red root of blackish appearance externally but blue-red inside, with a whitish core. The main chemical compound found in alkanet root is called alkannin, which is soluble in alcohol, ether, and oils, but is insoluble in water. Keep in mind that alkanet root contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which are water-soluble compounds toxic for internal use in higher quantities. If you wish to provide a nice pinkish tint to your lip formulations, give preference to oil macerates and avoid using alkanet powder or water-soluble extracts such as glycerites, which may not be suitable (or safe) for this type of product.

Natural Colourants - Annatto

3. Annatto

  • INCI: Bixa orellana seed extract
  • Solubility: Lipohilic (Bixin), Hydrophilic (Norbixin)
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Norbixin, Bixin
  • Colour: Orange / Red

Annatto is an orange-red colourant derived from the seeds of the achiote tree (Bixa orellana). The reddish orange colour dye of the annatto mainly comes from the resinous outer covering of the seeds of the plant. The yellow to orange colour is produced by the chemical compounds bixin and norbixin, which are classified as carotenoids. The lipophilic colour is called bixin, which can then be saponified into water-soluble norbixin. This dual solubility property of annatto is rare for carotenoids. The seeds contain 4.5–5.5% pigment, which consists of 70–80% bixin. Unlike beta-carotene, another well-known carotenoid, annatto-based pigments are not vitamin A precursors. The more norbixin in an annatto color, the more yellow it is; a higher level of bixin gives it a more orange shade.

4. Avocado

  • INCI: Persea gratissima oil
  • Solubility: Lipophilic (oil)
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Lutein
  • Colour: Green / Yellow

If you’ve used unrefined avocado oil before, you will know that it has a deep green colour and is so rich that it can even solidify slightly when cooled down. The skin, flesh and oil contain carotenoids and chlorophylls such as lutein, alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, neoxanthin, violaxanthin, zeaxanthin, antheraxanthin, chlorophylls a and b, and pheophytins a and b.

One of the main pigments found in avocado oil is lutein, which is one of 600 known naturally occurring carotenoids. Lutein is synthesised only by plants and like other xanthophylls is found in high quantities in green vegetables such as spinach, kale and avocado.

Natural Colourants - Beetroot

5. Beetroot

  • INCI: Beta vulgaris (Beet) extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Betanin
  • Colour: Red / Pink

Beetroot is a very well known colourant for water-based natural cosmetics. Its main chemical compound is called betanin, which degrades when subjected to light, heat, and oxygen. Infuse beetroot powder into glycerin to create a bright pink or red glycerite which you can use in your emulsions or water-based gels and tonics. Remember that beetroot is water-soluble so will not work in oil macerations.

6. Blue Tansy

  • INCI: Tanacetum annuum flower oil
  • Solubility: Lipophilic (the essential oil)
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Chamazulene
  • Colour: Blue

Blue Tansy is a member of the Asteraceae family, which means it’s related to chamomile. As you’ll see in the list below, German Chamomile yields a compound called Chamazulene. This compound is also found in Blue Tansy (17-38% Chamazulene in the essential oil) and is produced during steam distillation. If you want to give your formulation a blue tinge, you can use Blue Tansy essential oil. Not to be confused with Tansy Oil (Tanacetum vulgare).

7. Buriti 

  • INCI: Mauritia flexuosa fruit oil
  • Solubility: Lipophilic (the oil)
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Beta-carotene
  • Colour: Red / orange

Buriti is a palm also grown in the Amazon region. The fruits are a bit like chestnuts. The fruit pulp is yellow-orange and is used for juice making as well as oil production. The oil is edible and is applied in cooking and frying – can you imagine cooking chips in this oil?! The fruit has an edible oval seed.

Buriti oil contains over 70% oleic acid, which is similar to acai oil. Even more interestingly, buriti is unique due to its high beta-carotene content. The fruit is the richest natural source of beta-carotene and has even more beta-carotene than carrots – a carrot contains 6.6 mg of beta-carotene per 100g carrot pulp while a buriti fruit contains 30mg of beta-carotene per 100g of fruit pulp. The oil is even higher and contains 330 mg of beta-carotene per 100 grams of buriti oil.

Natural Colourants - Butterfly Pea

8. Butterfly Pea

  • INCI: Clitoria ternatea flower extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Delphinidin
  • Colour: Purple / Blue

Butterfly pea flowers have a beautiful blue colour and are frequently used as colourants in organic skincare. We even used them as an example in one of our natural gel scrubs! Butterfly pea flowers contain anthocyanins, as well as p-coumaric acid and ferulic acid. Apart from anthocyanins, C. ternatea petals contain a lot of flavonoid compounds such as p-coumaric acid and ferulic acid. The anthocyanins of blue butterfly pea petals are derived from an anthocyanidin form called delphinidin.

9. Calendula

  • INCI: Calendula officinalis flower extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophobic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Flavoxanthin
  • Colour: Orange

Carotenoids are generally responsible for petal colours in the yellow to red range. The wide range of petal colour in various varieties of calendula originates mainly from combinations of these carotenoid pigments. Nineteen carotenoids have bee identified in extracts of petals of orange- and yellow-flowered cultivars of calendula. Flavoxanthin has been identified as the main carotenoid of calendula petals, and it is clear that this carotenoid is responsible for the orange colour of calendula’s petals. Other carotenoids identified in calendula include lycopene and lutein. As a food additive flavoxanthin is used under the E number E161a as a food colouring, although it is not approved for use in the EU or USA.

Natural Colourants - Carrot

10. Carrot root

  • INCI: Daucus carota sativa root extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophobic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Beta-carotene
  • Colour: Orange

The name carotenoids, is derived from the fact that they constitute the major pigment in the carrot root, Daucus carota, are undoubtedly among the most widespread and important pigments in living organisms. Carotenoids are the pigments responsible for the colours of many plants, including carrot roots. The carotenoids – apart from the chlorophylls – are the largest group of oil-soluble pigments found in nature. Carrot root’s main pigment is derived from beta-carotene. Macerated carrot root in oil is a popular ingredient in making organic skincare and takes on a beautiful orange tinge.

11. Chamomile (German)

  • INCI: Matricaria recutita flower oil
  • Solubility: Lipophilic (essential oil)
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Chamazulene
  • Colour: Blue

Also known as Hungarian, or Blue Chamomile, this variety of chamomile yields an essential oil that is deep blue due to its high chamazulene content (2-5%). The essential oil also contains a high percentage of alcohols such as bisabolol. Chamazulene is only found in the essential oils of both Roman and German chamomile and is created during the distillation process from another compound called matricin. This compound causes the essential oil of German chamomile in particular to go bright blue. Roman chamomile essential oils is often distilled in a way that prevents the formation of chamazulene as the industry prefers this oil to be a pale straw colour. Chamazulene is credited with providing the anti-inflammatory properties of both chamomiles.

12. Dyer’s Rocket

  • INCI: Reseda luteola extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophobic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Luteolin
  • Colour: Yellow

The pigment luteolin is found in Dyer’s Rocket, Dyer’s weed, Weld, Woold, and Yellow weed. It is one of the oldest yellow dye plants and is found in many parts of central Europe. The leaves and seeds are used, which contain more dye than the stems. An infusion of the plant has been used for treating wounds.

Natural Colourants - Elderberry

13. Elderberry

  • INCI: Sambucus nigra extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic (extract)
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Cyanidin 3-glucoside
  • Colour: Red / purple

Elderberry contains some of the same chemical pigments and natural colourants as those found in Acai berries, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given that they share a similar deep purple colour. Its main pigment is caused by an anthocyanin called cyanidin 3-glucoside which is highly water soluble.

14. Hemp 

  • INCI: Cannabis sativa oil
  • Solubility: Lipophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Chlorophyll
  • Colour: Green

Hemp oil has an intensive green colour due to its chlorophyll content. Hemp oil obtained by supercritical CO2 has three times higher chlorophyll content and four times higher total carotene content compared to the cold pressed oil (Aladić, et al., 2014). Chlorophyll is soluble in alcohol and oil, but insoluble in water.

15. Henna

  • INCI: Lawsonia inermis extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophobic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Lawsone
  • Colour: Red / orange

Henna has been used since antiquity to dye skin, hair and fingernails, as well as fabrics including silk, wool and leather. Henna contains a compound called Lawsone. Lawsone (2-hydroxy-1,4-naphthoquinone), also known as hennotannic acid, is a red-orange dye present in the leaves of the henna plant (Lawsonia inermis) as well as in the flower of water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes).

Natural Colourants - Hibiscus

16. Hibiscus

  • INCI: Hibiscus rosa-sinensis flower extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Cyanidin-3-sophoroside, Cyanidin-3-sambubioside, Delphinidin-3-sambubioside
  • Colour: Red / pink

The red pigments contained in red flowers of the Hibiscus species are anthocyanins, and are widely used as colouring agents. Cyanidin-3-sophoroside is thought to be the main chemical pigment found in Hibiscus petals of the species Hibiscus rosa-sinensis. Extracts are also prepared of a species of Hibiscus called Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), thought to be native to West Africa. The main anthocyanins found in Hibiscus sabdariffa are cyanidin-3-sambubioside and delphinidin-3-sambubioside.

Research 38 natural colourants for organic #skincare, their solubility & chemical compounds. Click To Tweet

17. Indigo

  • INCI: Indigofera tinctoria extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Indigotin
  • Colour: Blue / Mauve

The blue pigment found in Indigo is extracted from the plant’s fermented leaves.  This produces a blue to mauve colour called indigotin (an indigoid structure). The plant is sometimes also known as Pigmentum indicum. A paste exudes from the fermenting plant material which is processed into cakes that are then finely ground. The blue colour develops as this powder is exposed to air.

Indigo dye is a derivative of indican, a glucoside component of numerous Indigofera species and this is converted to blue indigotin using an enzyme process. This dye is quite colourfast and is combined with stabilizers and other compounds to produce a wide range of colourants. Today, almost all indigo used commercially is produced synthetically (Dweck, 2002).

Natural Colourants - Iris

18. Iris

  • INCI: Iris germanica extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Mangiferin, Delphinidin
  • Colour: Purple / Blue / Green

Botanically derived from the roots of Iris germanica, iris extract possesses a high concentration of isoflavones and rhizomes. Iris contains mangiferin which is thought to be one of the major co-pigments in Iris flowers, producing, by interaction with the anthocyanin (a delphinidin glycoside), a range of purple, mauve and blue shades.

Iris germanica has historically been used to produce Iris Green, a green pigment which was made from perianth leaves of various plants. The pigment was prepared by simply squeezing the juice from the flowers and mixing with an aluminium hydroxide (alum) base. The green colour was made from the perianth leaves of the purple iris. The dye was initially purple, adding alum will change it to blue, and adding calcium will turn it green.

19. Madder

  • INCI: Rubia tinctorum extract
  • Solubility: Mildly hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Alizarin and Purpurin
  • Colour: Red / purple

Madder is native to the Mediterranean and was once widely grown as a dye plant. The generic name, Rubia means red and the plant has been used as a source of a permanent red dye. The 2–3-year old rootstock of the plants is used medicinally, which remains red when dried. The constituents include anthraquinone glycosides which are two red chemical entities derived from the roots and tubers, which are known as alizarin and purpurin.

20. Monascus Purpureus

  • INCI: Monascus extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Rubropunctamine
  • Colour: Red / purple

Monascus purpureus is a species of mould that is purplish-red in colour. During its growth, Monascus break down starch substrate into several metabolites, including pigments produced as secondary metabolites. The colour is currently available in purple and red. The main chemical pigment found in Monascus purpureus is Rubropunctamine, found to comprise between 57-87% of the total pigment produced.

Natural Colourants - Nettle

21. Nettle

  • INCI: Urtica dioica leaf extract
  • Solubility: Lipophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Chlorophyll
  • Colour: Green
Nettle leaves contain caffeic acid, chlorogenic acid, high content of chlorophyll and other pigments. The leaves contain just under 5mg chlorophyll per gram of dry leaves, depending on whether the plant was grown in the sun or shade.  Surprisingly, more chlorophyll and carotenoids are found in plants that have been grown in the shade. Chlorophyll is naturally oil soluble.

22. Paprika

  • INCI: Capsicum anuum extract
  • Solubility: Lipophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Capsanthin, Capsorubin
  • Colour: Red / purple

The pigments present in paprika are a mixture of carotenoids, in which capsanthin and capsorubin are the main compounds responsible for the red colour of the dye. It is rich in carotenoid pigments, including capsanthin, capsorubrin, carotene, luteine, zeaxanthin and cucurbitaxanthin. As well as being a pigment, it is also used in cosmetics in ointments, oils and emulsions for its stimulating effect and as a sports massage. Beware that capsanthin is warming on the skin (as anyone who has ever eaten a chilli will know!) and should be used in very low percentages (<0.1%) in cosmetics.

23. Pomegranate

  • INCI: Punica granatum fruit extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Punicalagin
  • Colour: Red / purple

Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments primarily responsible for the attractive red / purple colour of pomegranate juice, although the inedible fruit peels are the main source of colourants in pomegranate. Its chief constituents such as punicalagin, punicalin, gallagic and ellagic acids. It also contains alkaloids such as isopelletierine. Punica granatum dye and many other common natural dyes are reported as potent antimicrobial agents owing to the presence of a large amount of tannins.

Natural Colourants - Red Cabbage

24. Red Cabbage

  • INCI: Brassica oleracea leaf extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Cyanidin-3-glucoside and Delphinidin-3-glucoside
  • Colour: Pink / purple

Red cabbage, Brassica oleracea L. var. capitata, is well known for its pink / purple colour. Its water-soluble dye is composed mainly of natural pigment called anthocyanins used as a natural colourant. Eight anthocyanins are found in red cabbage, including cyanidin-3-glucoside and delphinidin-3-glucoside.

25. Red Clover

  • INCI: Trifolium pratense extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Formononetin
  • Colour: Golden Yellow

Red clover contains high levels of isoflavones, including a natural colourant called formononetin (7-hydroxy-4′-methoxyflavone) which is dull, golden yellow in colour. Formononetin is oestrogenic in vitro and in vivo (which has yielded numerous scientific studies looking at the effects of formononetin on sheep), but little information exists on the best time to harvest red clover fields to maximise content of the isoflavones.

26. Red Sandalwood

  • INCI: Pterocarpus santalinum extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophobic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Santalin
  • Colour: Red

The red obtained from Pterocarpus santalinum or red sandalwood is a complex molecule known as santalin. There are a number of forms of this basic structure all of which give quite intense red colours. The stability of this red is quite good compared to the others. It has been traditionally used for many centuries. The chemicals in Red Sandalwood either yield a red colour (Santalin A or Santalin B), or a yellow colour (Santalin Y).

Natural Colourants - Rosehip

27. Rosehip

  • INCI: Rosa canina fruit oil
  • Solubility: Lipophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Lycopene, Beta-carotene
  • Colour: Red  / Orange

The colour of rosehip oil extracted by cold pressing is characterised by its reddish pigmentation, which is associated with carotenoid content. In contrast, the solvent-extracted oil has a yellowish colour, which could be due to the ability of the organic solvent to extract pigments and several other substances from the seeds, and/or to the degradation of the red pigment owing to the high temperature of the oil extraction process. Nine carotenoids are found in rosehips: three carotenes (lycopene, ζ-carotene, β-carotene) and six xanthophylls (neoxanthin, trans-violaxanthin, cis-violaxan-thin, 5,6-epoxylutein, lutein, β-cryptoxanthin). This high number of compounds classifies these fruits among those with the greatest variety of carotenoid pigments. Rose hips contained the highest concentrations of total carotenoids, which are mainly comprised of lycopene and beta-carotene.

28. Safflower

  • INCI: Carthamus tinctorius seed oil
  • Solubility: Lipophilic (Carthamin), Hydrophilic (Carthamidin)
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Carthamin
  • Colour: Yellow / Red

Safflower contains a pigment called carthamin, which is a yellow-orange colour. On closer examination it is shown to contain two natural colourants, one yellow, the other red. The seeds yield an oil and the flowers give a yellow dye. Carthamin produces a water-insoluble red dye and carthamidin produces a water-soluble yellow colour dye.

Natural Colourants - Saffron

29. Saffron

  • INCI: Crocus sativus extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Crocin, Crocetin, Picrocrocin, Riboflavin
  • Colour: Yellow

The dried stigmas and tops of the styles of the Crocus sativus contain crocines, crocetins and picrocrocine and safranal. They are delicate colours and should be protected from light. The stigmas of C. sativus are rich in riboflavin, a yellow pigment and vitamins. In addition, saffron contains crocin, the major source of yellow-red pigment. α-crocin is a carotenoid pigment which is primarily responsible for saffron’s golden yellow-orange colour. The bitter glycoside picrocrocin is responsible for saffron’s flavour. Safranal is responsible for the aroma of the saffron. Not to be confused with the autumn crocus Colchicum autumnale, which is poisonous.

30. Sea buckthorn

  • INCI: Hippophae Rhamnoides Fruit Oil
  • Solubility: Lipophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, lycopene
  • Colour: Orange

The main pigments that give sea buckthorn berry its distinctive colour are carotenoids. These compounds are present in high amounts in pulp oil in particular. However, the total content of carotenoids varies (300–2000 mg/100 g) greatly between different growth locations and subspecies. In general, the main carotenoids present in sea buckthorn pulp oil are beta-carotene, zeaxanthin and lycopene.

31. Spinach

  • INCI: Spinacia Oleracea Leaf extract
  • Solubility: Lipophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Chlorophyll
  • Colour: Green / Yellow

Spinach leaves contain chlorophyll a, chlorophyll b and beta-carotene as major pigments as well as smaller amounts of other pigments such as xanthophylls. In green leafy vegetables such as spinach, only the green chlorophylls are seen because they mask the bright red, orange and yellow colours of the carotenoids. Blanching spinach reduces its percentage of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is lipophilic.

Natural Colourants - Spirulina

32. Spirulina 

  • INCI: Spirulina platensis extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Phycocyanin and Phycoerthyrin
  • Colour: Blue / Green

Spirulina represents a biomass of cyanobacteria (blue-green algae). There are two species, Arthrospira platensis and Arthrospira maxima, which produce pigments called phycocyanin and phycoerthyrin.  Phycocyanin is a blue-coloured pigment, absorbing orange and red light, and phycoerthyrin is a red-coloured pigment. Pigments of microalgal origin which are currently enjoying high market demand and spirulina falls into this category!

33. St. John’s Wort

  • INCI: Hypericum perforatum flower extract
  • Solubility: Lipophilic and Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Hypericin
  • Colour: Red

Hypericin is a fluorescent red pigment found in St. John’s Wort. Although the herb produces bright yellow flowers, its macerated oil is dark red. Once these flowers have been steeped in the oil over a period of time, the oil turns a dark red which can be used in anhydrous or emulsified formulations. Along with hyperforin, hypericin is one of the best known chemical constituents in St. John’s Wort and is thought to have antibiotic, antiviral and anti-depressant properties. Hypericin has a unique molecular structure in which one-half of the molecule is hydrophilic (water loving) while the other half is hydrophobic (water repelling).

34. Tomato

  • INCI: Solanum lycopersicum extract
  • Solubility: Lipophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Lycopene
  • Colour: Red / Orange

The major constituents of the tomato are lycopene, α and β-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin and b-cryptoxanthin. Lycopene is a bright red carotene and carotenoid pigment and phytochemical found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables, such as red carrots, watermelons, gac, and papayas. Lycopene is the pigment in tomato-containing sauces and is insoluble in water. It can be dissolved only in organic solvents and oils. It constitutes about 80–90% of the total carotenoid content of red-ripe tomatoes. Beta-carotene, the yellow pigment of the carrot is the isomer of lycopene.

Natural Colourants - Turmeric

35. Turmeric

  • INCI: Curcuma longa extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophobic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Curcumin
  • Colour: Yellow / Orange

Turmeric is commonly known as Indian saffron. It consists of dried, as well as fresh rhizomes of the plant Curcuma longa. The rhizome has been used as a medicine, spice and colouring agent for thousands of years. Turmeric contains a chemical called Curcumin which will give a range of colour from yellow to a deep orange. Turmeric contains about 5% of volatile oil, resin and yellow colouring substances known as curcuminoids. Chemically turmeric contains about 50-60% curcumin, which is responsible for the yellow colour of the natural colourant.

36. Walnut

  • INCI: Juglans nigra shell extract
  • Solubility: Lipophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Juglone
  • Colour: Orange / Brown

Black walnut drupes contain juglone (5-hydroxy-1,4-naphthoquinone), plumbagin (yellow quinone pigments), and tannin. Black walnuts make a orange-brown dye. The liquid (dye) obtained from the inner husk becomes increasingly darker over time, as the outer skin darkens from light green to black. Juglone is an isomer of lawsone, which is the staining compound in the henna leaf.

37. Woad

  • INCI: Isatis tinctoria leaf extract
  • Solubility: Hydrophilic
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Indigotin
  • Colour: Blue / Indigo

Woad is also the name of a blue dye produced from the leaves of the woad plant. The dye chemical extracted from woad is indigotin, the same dye extracted from “true indigo”, Indigofera tinctoria, but in a lower concentration. It is worth noting that woad is classified as an invasive species in parts of the United States.

Natural Colourants - Yarrow

38. Yarrow

  • INCI: Achillea millefolium oil
  • Solubility: Lipophilic (essential oil)
  • Main chemical pigment(s): Chamazulene
  • Colour: Blue

Similar to Blue Tansy and German Chamomile, some essential oils from yarrow can contain chamazulene which gives the oil a dark blue colour. Some yarrow essential oils are dark blue and contain over 15% chamazulene, which can act as a great natural colourant for your skincare formulation.

During the steam distillation of the herb, a compound called matricine is converted to azulene or chamazulene, compounds which are not present in the actual plant. It is only through the application of heat and the process of steam distillation that azulene and chamazulene develop.

Leaf pigments in plants are Chlorophyll, Carotenes, Xanthophylls and Anthocyanins. Click To Tweet


Variation in Natural Colourants for Skincare

As a formulator you must keep in mind that natural ingredients are prone to variation. After all, plants vary between harvests, seasons, locations and habitats. An avocado oil produced by one supplier may have a far deeper green colour than another produced elsewhere. This means that your beautiful wheat germ oil or sea buckthorn oil may present with different colours ranging from supplier to supplier and even from batch to batch. And it may not only be your cosmetic ingredient’s colour that shows variation, but also its scent and its chemical compounds.

Working with variation in ingredients can pose a daunting challenge to any formulator – how do you make sure that your products always look, smell and behave the same? This is the main reason that the mainstream industry first strips all plant oils and extracts from their inherent colours and scents and then adds standardised (and of course not always natural) colourants and scents to the product to guarantee a reproducible and uniform colour and scent over decades.

Formulating with Natural Colourants

Legal issues

Many of these ingredients can legally not be viewed as natural colourants in your organic skincare or haircare formulations. Certain cosmetic regulations around the world (such as those in the EU) specify a list of approved colourants to be used in cosmetics – and most of these plants will not feature on those lists.

Thankfully the vast majority of these natural colourants will have other chemical and beneficial properties for your formulations; given their chemical nature and the role they play in the plant, they are often antimicrobial, antioxidant or anti-inflammatory. In the case that your ingredient is not listed on an approved colourant list, it will be considered as a functional ingredient instead.


As you’ve seen in this article, many of the plants we’ve listed contain similar chemicals that function as natural colourants – anthocyanins, carotenoids, etc. Some of these water-soluble pigments are pH dependent. In the case of anthocyanins, depending on the pH, they have a colour spectrum that ranges between dark blue to purple to red.

If you want to achieve the same colour shade and product integrity from batch to batch, then you will need to adjust your formulation’s pH to be within a narrow range. Read an article we wrote on this topic previously called: What can go wrong if you don’t control your formulation’s pH?

You will also need to make sure that the pH of your product does not change during its shelf life, which is why stability testing is so important (check out our Certificate in Cosmetic Stability Testing).


Chelators are often added to cosmetics to improve stability, because they stop or slow-down unstable reactions which are catalysed or promoted by metal ions. A perfect example of such a chemical reaction is a colour change.

If there are metal ions present in your formulation then they can affect the overall colour of the product by attaching themselves to the pigment molecule’s surface or replacing a particular metal ion. Adding a chelator to your formulation would cause it to bind with the metal ion and prevent unwanted colour change. Want to learn more about chelation? We’ll teach you in our Advanced Diploma in Organic Cosmetic Science.

Which are your favourite natural colourants to use in organic skincare or haircare? Leave us a comment below!



Aladić, K. et al., 2014. Cold Pressing and Supercritical CO2 Extraction of Hemp (Cannabis sativa) Seed Oil. Chem. Biochem. Eng. Q., 28 (4) 481–490 (2014)

Dweck, A. 2002. Natural ingredients for colouring and styling. Int. J. Cosm. Sci. 24(5): 287-302.



What are organic skincare ingredients?

To be verified as organic, skincare ingredients need to be certified by a bona fide certifying body such as the Soil Association which operates worldwide or the US Department of Agriculture. It is not enough for a brand to claim organic status unilaterally although they may wish to say a certain percentage of their ingredients are organic. Organic cosmetics ingredients need to be organically farmed. This means grown without the use of genetically-modified organisms (GM), herbicides, synthetic fertilisers and similar.

What is the difference between natural and organic skincare?

Natural skincare does not mean organic, and in fact, a cosmetic product labeled organic does not need to be 100 per cent organic nor 100 per cent natural. This can seem confusing. Natural is a term that in most parts of the world has no legal definition when applied to cosmetics. Neither the FDA in the States nor the EU has regulatory definitions of natural. This means that cosmetic brands can use it as they wish. A product can be composed of natural ingredients in part or entirety but those natural ingredients do not need to also be organic. Bodies certifying organic cosmetics also have differing criteria about what constitutes organic status. Beauty product consumers often wrongly assume natural is synonymous with organic or that a cosmetic officially labeled organic is in fact 100 per cent organic.

What are the best natural products for skincare?

Natural, botanical skincare products are built on the same principle as mainstream cosmetics with oils, water and hydrolats, emulsifiers, gums, preservatives, solubilisers, surfactants, thickeners, bio-active ingredients and so on. By choosing natural, plant-derived versions of these key cosmetic ingredients, you will be using cosmetics containing often the active, skin beneficial elements in a far less processed and adulterated manner. The thinking is too that many natural ingredients, such as cold-pressed plant oils and butters like shea or sweet almond oil, have been used by man for centuries and are therefore better tolerated on our skin and their side effects well documented. There are of course many shades of natural which is a term not defined nor widely regulated for use in cosmetics’ descriptions. Natural ingredients may indeed be raw and direct from nature, or be nature-derived, nature-identical or contain only some pure natural components. The best natural products are ones that suit your skin type and needs, and this will vary for everyone.

What are the natural pigments?

In natural and organic cosmetics, colour is imparted using and celebrating the natural pigments found in various botanical ingredients. In mainstream cosmetics, most colorants are created synthetically. Natural pigments can be found in all sorts of plant extracts such as cold-pressed oils, tinctures, powders and glycerites and more. Blue tansy oil, buriti oil, rosehip oil, saffron, spirulina, henna, hibiscus extract, indigo and woad are just some of the fascinating, natural pigments around which can be harnessed for natural cosmetic formulation. Here is a list of some 38 natural pigments to research.

Where can I learn to formulate natural skincare and haircare?

Join us at Formula Botanica, where tens of thousands of students and followers take our free and paid online courses to learn how to formulate organic skincare and haircare for themselves or to sell and also how to set up a beauty brand and business.


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Lorraine Dallmeier

Lorraine Dallmeier is a Biologist, Chartered Environmentalist and the CEO of Formula Botanica, the award-winning online organic cosmetic science school. Read more about Lorraine and the Formula Botanica Team.


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